in: Reviews

July 25, 2010

Better than Ever Muzijevic at Maverick

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Pianist Pedja Muzijevic has performed several times at Maverick Concerts in previous seasons, both as soloist and ensemble player. But he has never made as strong or positive an impression on this listener as he did on Saturday, July 24. The first half of Muzijevic’s program was a kaleidoscope of mixed repertory. Three Scarlatti Sonatas were separated by works of Feldman and Cowell. The Scarlatti playing was pianistic but stylish, with all repeats and even a few added trills. The K. 113 was taken a bit too fast for the sake of accuracy and sounded a bit rushed, but it was still impressive. The Feldman, a Webernian Intermission, was convincingly shaped; and Cowell’s Floating was also excellently done.

Muzijevic continued with Conlon Nancarrow’s Tango, written for human pianist but scarcely less complex in its rhythms than his player piano music, a great challenge and an impressive performance. Godowsky’s transcription of Strauss’s Ständchen was followed by Cowell’s Fabric, and I was sure I heard a similarity in the figuration of each piece. Maverick is offering tributes to Schumann, Chopin, and Barber this season, so Muzijevic concluded the first half of his program with the Novellette, Op. 21, No. 8, by Schumann, not very familiar music. He played it with good tonal quality and lots of romantic impulsiveness, a thorough success.

Since John Cage’s famous/notorious silent 4’33” was first “performed” at Maverick (in 1952), it shows up on piano programs here occasionally. Muzijevic, sitting very still, didn’t mark the “movements” of the piece as he is supposed to (by lowering and raising the keyboard cover), and I can’t swear that he took exactly the right amount time. It did provide me with a fine opportunity to concentrate on my tinnitus, though. Muzijevic then launched  immediately into the Liszt transcription of the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. I hadn’t remembered this pianist playing with such tonal resources and coloration in the past, perhaps the fragility of my memory, but he gave us a thoroughly satisfying performance.

In taking on Schumann’s Carnaval, Muzijevic was competing not only with the many glorious recordings by pianists of the past (beginning with Rachmaninov) but, in my memory, with a gorgeous performance by Nikolai Demidenko at SUNY New Paltz’s PianoSummer only last week. Muzijevic may not be quite the master colorist Demidenko is (few pianists today can match him), but his performance was far from black and white. He characterized each section convincingly, playing with a gratifying combination of virtuosity and eloquence. The concluding March was appropriately heavy-footed, a fine depiction of the Philistines who are then routed by lovers of great music like Schumann’s.

This was an uncommonly varied, effective, and stimulating recital. I will look forward to future Muzijevic performances with great anticipation.

Leslie Gerber lives in Woodstock, New York. He has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

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